Five Medical School Personal Statement Clichés

By Ryan Hickey + updated on June 29th, 2010

With medical school application in full swing, I’d like to take this opportunity to share a brief list of overused content from medical school personal statements. These five points, however phrased, pop up over and over again in essays submitted to our editors, and they almost never add real value to the applicant’s work.

As we go through these, keep in mind that you can still make a similar point in a successful manner, so long as you find a way to make it personal. The primary reason comments like these drag a personal statement down is because they are so general. If one of these applies to you, make sure that you make it unique to your individual experience if you plan to include it in your admissions writing.

For example, if you have already participated in research of a particular disease, you can likely share your interest in furthering that research in your personal statement. It would then be logical and extremely valid for you to say something about how you hope such research will ultimately lead to improved treatments and, ideally, a cure for that disease. Although, “I want to cure X disease,” is a horribly overused cliché, by sharing your personal experience and showing how you specifically have made and can continue to make contributions in that regard, you can turn it into a compelling part of your personal statement.

  1. I want to improve lives. Countless med school applicants feel compelled to make this point for some reason, even though it’s almost universal across all applicants. You probably wouldn’t be applying to med school if you didn’t have some desire to improve lives. So using such a statement to justify your application won’t do much to set you apart from everyone else.
  2. I want to serve others. See my explanation of the first example; this is almost exactly the same, as such feelings are almost universal among med school applicants.
  3. I want to cure [insert disease here]. While you may have unique justification for making a point like this, as described above, many applicants say something like this without offering any further explanation. Doing so will leave the reader feeling as if you don’t have deeper reasons for applying.
  4. I have wanted to be a doctor since I was [insert age between 5 and 10 here]. Few things tell an admissions committee less than a statement like this. It’s simply information that, at best, may introduce a cute story. The truth of the matter is that having had the motivation to become a doctor for 20 years is not automatically better than having had that motivation for 2 years. What’s much more important is why you want to embark on this career, how you’ve prepared, and what you will accomplish down the road.
  5. I want to become a doctor to make my [family member] proud. Even if this is the case for you, don’t share in your personal statement. A comment like this can make your personal interest in medicine seem driven by someone else. You don’t want the reader to come away from your statement believing that a large part of your work to this point has solely been to please a parent.
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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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